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Meeting Food Needs in a Land of Abundance: Make A Difference This Christmas

IN THE December 10 ISSUE

FROM THE 2011 Articles,
andHelping Hands,
andMinistry Musings,
andTom Sims
SECTIONS

by Tom Sims

If you are looking to make a difference in the lives of the hungry in the Central Valley this holiday season and beyond–this article highlights many opportunities!

In the richest agricultural county in America, families go hungry every day.

The Associated Press reported on November 30, 2011 that Fresno County had the highest poverty rate in California last year, according to new census data.

“The agricultural county’s poverty rate was 26.8 percent, meaning nearly 250,000 county residents lived in poverty. Statewide, the poverty rate was 15.8 percent.”

“Fresno County ranked seventh on the poverty rate list in 2009, at 21.5 percent.”

Across California, 22 percent of all children live in poverty. That soars to nearly 40 percent in the Fresno Area, a county that ranks as the number one agricultural county in the nation, producing $5.9 billion in agricultural crops and commodities.

On November 2, 2011, the Fresno Bee reported that “in Fresno County, 25.1% of the poor lived in areas of concentrated poverty at the end of the decade – the fifth-most of the nation’s largest metro areas.”

These figures were derived from a Brookings Institution report and follow up studies.

In addition, the Community Food Bank reports, “The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) – an anti-hunger group based in Washington, D.C. – released its annual food hardship report in March. The report indicated that the nation experienced an overall slight decrease in food hardship in 2010 (from 18.3 percent to 18.0 percent). However, the report also revealed that the Fresno region experienced a significant increase in food hardship last year. In fact, FRAC ranked the Fresno region number one on a list of the 100 metropolitan areas in the nation with the highest food hardship rates. Food hardship is defined as not having enough money to purchase the food one needs.”

Food hardship is a reality in Fresno and cries out to be addressed by those who are well fed. The report continues: “The study identified an increase in food hardship in the Fresno region, from 24.1 percent in 2009 to 27.2 percent experiencing food hardship in 2010. This increase represents an additional 34,100 individuals, that number includes as many as 11,000 children, within Community Food Bank’s service area now struggling with hunger.”

chart - Fresno Regional Foundation

Almost every social and faith-based agency or ministry in Fresno County is making an appeal during this season. Sometime soon, the loose coalition that campaigned to win a $1,000,000 hunger grant from Walmart last year is planning an anniversary food and donation drive. Reggie DeLeon, also known as Jim Bean, posted this reminder on his Facebook page recently:

“Hi everyone. I know I haven’t been posting much as of late but this week a few of us will be planning the 1 year anniversary of the Fighting Hunger Campaign. We are organizing another food drive and would love to have a few of you come on board and give us a hand. Last year our community spent days and nights clicking ‘like’ and trying to win the million dollars for our community. Unfortunately we fell short but did earn $100,000. At the food drive last year we as a community raised over 8,000 pounds of food and over $11,000 for The Community Food Bank. This year we want to top that and believe we can! If you would like to participate in organizing the food drive please message me and I will give you more info. Thank you and I look forward to Fighting Hunger with everyone again :)” .

Reggie (AKA Jim) was so committed to the initiative that he had his head shaved to encourage the votes along. Local celebrity, Travis Sheridan had a special tattoo engraved for the occasion.

The Walmart initiative came in second to Salt Lake City, but Fresno won $100,000 for several of its agencies. Among them was the Community Food Bank. According to their web site, “Last holiday season, the food bank provided 40,000 meal boxes for families in need. Due to budget constraints, the food bank can only provide for 10,000 families this season. You can help us make up the difference.” The Food Bank reaches 90,000 individuals weekly.

Poverello House, Fresno Rescue Mission, Salvation Army, and local churches consistently feed the poorest of the poor and all take donations at Christmas as well as throughout the year. After all, people are not just hungry and needy at Christmas.

Since 1970, Fresno Metro Ministry has advocated for food and nutritional issues as one of their areas of concentration. While they do not provide direct services, they educate, advocate, coordinate, and initiate. One of their projects is teaching and facilitating community gardens as a way of empowering people to feed themselves.

For ten years, Feeding Those Who Feed Us has hosted events up and down California in communities where farm workers live and work. These events have included provision of food, clothing, backpacks for children, and medical and dental services. Volunteers converge on migrant centers and neighborhoods for a week, working with the children and building up toward a block party event with a huge meal and boxes of food for participating families. Thousands have participated in the last ten years including the residents of Parlier, CA.

Parlier FTWFU

Sponsored by the California Southern Baptist Convention and locally by First Southern Baptist Church of Reedley, Feeding Those Who Feed Us utilizes volunteers from many churches as well as doctors, nurses, and dentists. One participating church that ran a site in another location produced a video chronicling their experience.

Parlier FTWFU

According to Oscar Sanchez, Migrant Ministries Field Specialist for the California Southern Baptist Convention, “The purpose of FTWFU is to satisfy some of the material and spiritual needs of the migrant field workers and their families by recruiting volunteers (individuals, churches, and organizations) who will serve the migrants by giving them food, clothing and school resources for the new school year which will provide the opportunity to present the Good News (Gospel) to the glory of God.”
 
Charles McClung, the ministry evangelism specialist for the Healthy Church Group of the CSBC, reported that during the 2006 project, around 1,100 volunteers served 13,000 migrant workers and their families. More than 3,000 households were given 10 pounds of rice, beans, flour and five pounds each of corn meal and sugar.
 
First Southern Baptist Church is gearing up now for the summer distribution and Christmas is an excellent time to make a personal donations at http://www.csbc.com/migrant. To volunteer, you can call Oscar Sanchez, Migrant Ministries Field Specialist, CSBC at (559) 930-3768 or email him atosanchez@csbc. The Parlier center’s event is July 30- August 4, 2012.
 
Another self-empowerment initiative currently creating a buzz is the Central California Urban Chicken Keepers movement. Initiated by Rachel Carpenter, a local community activist, the initial goal of “CCLUCK” is to change a city ordinance to enable people in Fresno to raise hens so that they and their children will have organic, high protein eggs to eat. After that, the organization has plans to educate and create collaborative efforts around chicken keeping and other food access issues. To read and sign their petition, go to this website.
 
Fresno Food Collaborative is a new Facebook initiative designed to bring together programs addressing the needs of the hungry in Fresno County. On their website there will be postings of opportunities to volunteer and give. The Facebook page that corresponds, will be a think tank for initiatives such as community gardens, teaching gardens, and bold entrepreneurial ventures.
 
Two opportunities during the season are especially noteworthy:

SHOP AND FEED and
FEEDING AMERICA
 
For ongoing support of the Community Food bank, follow these links on How to Help:

 
Donate Money http://communityfoodbank.net/HowToHelp/Donate.aspx
Volunteer http://communityfoodbank.net/HowToHelp/Volunteer.aspx
Donate Food http://communityfoodbank.net/HowToHelp/DonateFood.aspx
Hold a Food Drive http://communityfoodbank.net/HowToHelp/HoldAFoodDrive.aspx
Become a Partner Agency http://communityfoodbank.net/HowToHelp/BecomeAPartnerAgency.aspx
 
In a valley of abundance, there must be hope for feeding the people, many of whom feed the rest of us throughout the year.

Tom Sims is a local pastor (and Grandpa!), writer, and blogger. His congregation, “The Fellowship of Joy,” is part of a larger collaborative called “4141 Ministries,” of which he is Executive Director & he is an active Toastmaster. You can also find him on Facebook.

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